With a dedicated staff of approximately 100 employees, the City of Youngstown, Ohio’s Water Department services over 52,000 accounts – a population more than 125,000 people – spread over seven communities. The City buys water from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District and distributes about half a billion gallons a month to those communities.
As Water Commissioner for the City of Youngstown, Harry Johnson III is responsible for all the department’s policies, procedures and activities. Under his leadership, the department has adopted a forward-thinking, proactive, and best practices approach to the maintenance of its assets. That includes utilizing an Asset Management Program (AMP) to keep its key infrastructure in optimal condition, starting with repair, rehabilitation, and maintenance of its seven water tanks – five of which have now been fully renovated to “as new” condition by SUEZ, which provides asset management services to the department.
“I’m one of those people who says, ‘Okay. Let’s think outside the box and be open to new ideas and technologies.’ That’s just my philosophy, and it’s paid big dividends,” said Johnson.
The determination to implement an AMP coincided with the City’s decision to execute a number of improvement projects to its water system. The choice to work with SUEZ’s asset management team enabled the City to finance projects like repair, rehabilitation and ongoing maintenance of its water tanks over time rather than incur a significant initial capital outlay.
Of course, water tanks are just one part of the City’s water infrastructure. As in many other communities throughout the United States, the City of Youngstown’s distribution system is aging. One of the related issues was the appearance of discoloration in the water in some parts of the system, accompanied by complaints from concerned customers.
“This was occurring more in older areas with cast iron pipes, on dead-end streets or cul-de-sacs – locations with low flow rates. We were considering water line replacement, but when we looked at the costs, we said, ‘that’s going to cost too much.’ So, we explored a number of different ways to eradicate the problems. That’s when we learned about the SUEZ spray-in-place pipe (SIPP) rehab program, which is part of its suite of asset management solutions,” said Johnson.
Over the last three years, the Water Department identified 3,000 to 4,000 ft of pipe in low usage or dead-end streets, where the flow is below average. As a result, there is the possibility of increased tuberculation in these pipes — mineral build-up over the years — which can cause things like discolored water that result in customer complaints. This can, and does, happen in water systems across the country: If water sits for a long enough time in a pipe, naturally occurring minerals, like iron or manganese, can attach to and build up in a cast iron pipe.
After being introduced to the innovative SIPP solution, the Youngstown Water Department decided to apply it to rehab and repair pipes in these streets. With SIPP, the Asset Management team — using specialized equipment — cleans, views the inside of the pipe via a camera system to ensure proper cleanliness, and then coats these pipes to solve the problem and eliminate customer complaints. This process restores the pipes in those areas to their original “like new” condition.
The Water Department identified 17 different areas where these problems were occurring, and in 2019, decided to tackle six streets, starting with 2,400 ft of pipe. The department then budgeted to take care of an additional 2,900 ft of pipe in 2020, which has been accomplished. Each year, the Water Department determines what section of pipe to rehab, and this becomes the plan for that year. Johnson notes that customers have called to thank him directly and confirm that their water is clear.
SIPP is an efficient and long-lasting pipe rehabilitation solution that scrubs underground pipes clean and then uses a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled robotic spray rig to apply an internal epoxy pipe lining on-site. The epoxy coating applied by SUEZ is NSF-approved for use in potable water systems. Once it has cured, the epoxy lining seals the pipe, preventing leaks and water contamination, and extending the pipes’ service life. This solution also minimizes future maintenance costs and increases the flow capacity for greater system efficiency, most important for fire fighting.
Importantly, SIPP eliminates the need for major road or sidewalk tear-ups, requiring only a series of small trenches along the pipeline to be rehabilitated. It can be used to rehab pipes made of different materials including cast iron, with diameters ranging from 4 in. to 36 in.
Execution of Youngstown’s SIPP program is done as a partnership between SUEZ and the City. There are three distinct parts to this project. First is digging trenches where we access the pipe to perform the rehabilitation. Second is installing the temporary water lines to ensure that there is no disruption in the water supply to the customer. Both of these steps are handled by the city. Third, SUEZ then comes in with its equipment to do all the pipe rehab — cleaning, camera work, and coating with a hundred percent solid epoxy.
Benefits of SIPP
SIPP can yield an estimated cost saving of about 30 percent when compared to direct replacement, where it is necessary to dig up and replace the entire length of the pipe that needs attention. SIPP also saves time over traditional pipe replacement.
“It just so happened that we were doing a water line replacement in another area in our district, with a similar type and amount of pipe — about 2,900 ft of pipe. We discovered that the cost of SIPP was at least 35 percent less than replacing the pipe. Another benefit was that SIPP took about a third – maybe even a quarter — of the time needed to replace the pipe,” Johnson noted.
An important advantage of SIPP is that it minimizes inconvenience to consumers by relining water pipes rather than digging them up and replacing them. Excavation on SIPP projects is about 3 percent of excavation on traditional dig-and-replace projects. The significant cutback of excavation and backfill shortens the traditional construction schedules for this type of work and makes the work safer. The epoxy lining seals the pipe, leaving no annular space for water to leak. The lining prevents corrosion, improving water quality.
Johnson summarized his experience with the SIPP program by saying that, “It exceeded my expectations in terms of the cost and the amount of time it took, and the fact that it wasn’t invasive. I would tell any utility to strongly consider taking a look at SUEZ to assist you with this process. We’re more than pleased with it. It’s paid big dividends for us. It worked great for the customer, and it worked great for us.”